In the TV series, "I Claudius" (BBC, 1976) there was a scene in which the Ambassador, Appius Iunius Silanus, attempts to assassinate Emperor Claudius (occupational hazard) and fails. In the aftermath, a restrained Silanus awaits his fate. Imperatrix, The "Lady" Messalina, entreats for mercy, counselling exile. A senior aide and civil servant, Pallas, warns:

An attempt on the life of Caeser cannot be punished by banishment; such a precedent would only encourage others to try.

A translation of this might be:

conatum Caesarem insidiis interficere non exsilio est puniri; ne talis exemplum alios solum hortetur conari.

Toyed with: "non potest exsilio punire", but thought that "possum" means "can" in the sense of to-be-physically-able e.g. I-can-walk; as opposed to it-cannot-be-done, simply because it's a bad idea. Alternatively, gerundive-of-obligation, "non exsilio punendum est", it-ought-not-to-be-punished-by-exile.

The character, Pallas, was highly articulate and would have said this in the most succinct way, which is?

  • Is potest being used as an impersonal verb? If so, licet might work.
    – Hugh
    Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 15:13
  • From the question body this seems to focus on the translation of cannot be punished, which disagrees with the title. Per chance you want to change the title?
    – awllower
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 3:53
  • @awllowerr: The setting of a dangerous precedent was the point; so, seemed an appropriate title.
    – tony
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 10:49
  • @tony If you really want a translation for "precedent" that has the juridical meaning and is not only an "example": I suspect there is no such word. The Roman judical system did not rely on precedents in court but on responsa prudentium, responses of jurists.
    – K-HB
    Commented Apr 15, 2019 at 20:12

1 Answer 1


Here is a suggestion:

Ne tales insidias expellendo puniamus, ne quis alius talia conetur.

Let us not punish such conspiracy by expelling, so that nobody else tries such things.

I tried to keep it succinct but as a single sentence. I don't actually know what would be a good translation of "attempt at someone's life", but at any rate it would be longer than "such conspiracy". In the context this should still convey the same message.

One can punish by exile, but I thought that it would get more weight and activity if the punishment was given by expelling, expellendo.

I used talia ("such things" rather than "such conspiracy") in the second clause. You can also use tales.

Your suggested translation does not quite seem to work grammatically. If you want to say "an attempt cannot be punished" (this was the key part of the first half), you should say conatum punire non licet rather than conatum non est puniri. The Latin licet is stronger than the English "can", but a stronger message of not being allowed seems appropriate here.

A ne clause for an unwanted consequence ("so that something doesn't happen") is a good idea. Talis should be neuter (tale) to match exemplum. The subject of conetur is unclear to me. Is it supposed to be the entire first clause?

The verb hortari can be used in a number of ways, and one of them is with the infinitive as you wrote. The infinitive is quite rare though, so I'm not sure if it's a good choice. One can render "I encourage you to try" in a number of ways:

  • te hortor ad conandum
  • te hortor in conandum
  • te hortor conari
  • te hortor ut coneris
  • te hortor coneris
  • and more; see L&S or another dictionary
  • llmavirta: thanks: looks better, apart from using the same word in both clauses (tales/ talia).
    – tony
    Commented Apr 15, 2019 at 9:30
  • @tony Actually, I did purposely use talia ("such things" rather than "such conspiracy") in the second clause. But tales is perfectly fine, too.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Apr 15, 2019 at 14:28

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